Ishihara and Itagaki—principal architects of the bombing of the South Manchurian Railway line and the deployment of Army reinforcements from Korea
Part of the so-called “Final World War Theory” devised by Kanji Ishihara, a clear-headed and religious man, who adhered to the Nichiren sect of Buddhism and who had studied the life of Napoleon Bonaparte, stated as follows: “The world will be integrated into a single system after all. The crux of such a world will be determined in a war between the United States as the leader of the West and Japan as the main player of the East. Our country should qualify as the contender representing the East as soon as possible.”
This prophetic vision of a final war for mankind served as one of the grounds for leading Japan to war in the Asian continent.
Ishihara’s theory asked what Japan should do to qualify for the final world war. His answer was to resolve the Manchuria-Inner Mongolia issue. To that end, it was indispensable for Japan to occupy Manchuria and Inner Mongolia. According to Ishihara: “Historically speaking, Manchuria and Inner Mongolia must belong to the Japanese instead of the Han race [Chinese].”
In July 1929 (the fourth year of the Showa era), as a staff officer of the Kwantung Army, Ishihara presented his view of war to his colleagues from the Army Chief of Staff’s office during their inspection tour of northern Manchuria. Senior Staff Officer Seishiro Itagaki was so impressed by the presentation that he wrote down its contents in a notebook later that night.
Ishihara ordered a member of the staff to study methods of occupation and rule. When he looked at a report compiled by the staff member in December of the same year, he is said to have told himself: “This is fine. Two more years.”
How, then, was the Manchurian Incident—the prime movers of which were Ishihara and Itagaki—actually plotted and staged?
According to a postwar recollection by Tadashi Hanaya, a staff officer of the Kwantung Army, Itagaki, Ishihara and Hanaya held a study session or two every week at the initiative of Ishihara. Shintaro Imada, an Imperial Japanese Army captain assigned as an aide to a Japanese military advisor to Chang Hsueh-liang, also took part in the study gatherings. By the spring of 1931, a blueprint for the Manchurian Incident was completed—to disguise an explosion of a section of the railway as an act of sabotage by the Chinese side and to deploy Japanese troops under the pretext of protecting the South Manchurian Railway and Japanese residents.
In his “Personal Opinion on the Manmo (Manchuria-Inner Mongolia) Issue” of May 1931, Ishihara said, “It won’t necessarily be difficult for the military to create an opportunity to exert leadership and to force the nation to rally behind us.”
He thus prepared himself for compelling the nucleus of the military and the government to consent to the use of force. The Kwantung Army’s staff officers mapped out the elaborate plan while they talked Masatane Kanda, a staff officer of the Korea Army branch of the Imperial Japanese Army, into collaborating with them.
According to Hanaya: “[We revealed] 95 percent [of the plan] to Lieutenant Colonel Kingoro Hashimoto and Lieutenant Colonel Hiroshi Nemoto, 90 percent to Major General Yoshitsugu Tatekawa and Colonel Chiaki Shigeto, 85 percent to Colonel Tetsuzan Nagata and 50 percent to Major General Kuniaki Koiso and Lieutenant General Harushige Ninomiya.” He added, “Nothing was divulged to [the Kwantung Army’s] Chief of Staff [Mitsuharu] Miyake and to most of the staff officers.”
Ishihara and his group originally decided to launch their plan on September 28, 1931. But they were informed that the Imperial Japanese Army’s General Staff in Tokyo had decided to send Major General Tatekawa to Manchuria in order to talk the Ishihara group into abandoning the plot. On September 15, Itagaki, Ishihara, Hanaya, Imada and others met at the Mukden (Shenyang) Special Service Agency. Itagaki is known to have said, “I’ll stand a pencil on end. If it falls to the right, let’s call off [the plot]. If it falls to the left, we’ll go ahead.” The pencil fell to the right. But Imada said, “I’ll do it alone.” Eventually, the group confirmed that the plan would be carried out. Tatekawa arrived in Mukden, but, as Hanaya wined and dined him at a restaurant, the Major General from Tokyo did nothing to prevent the planning for the Manchurian Incident from going forward.
On the night of September 18, 1931, Imada as well as First Lieutenant Suemori Komoto and some troops from the Mukden-based garrison of the Kwantung Army blew up a section of the South Manchurian Railway near Liutiaohu on the outskirts of Mukden, initiating an aggressive operation designed to take full control of Manchuria. Kyujiro Hayashi, Japan’s Consul General in Mukden, judged that the bombing was an act orchestrated by the Kwantung Army. Itagaki said brusquely to Acting Consul General Morito Morishima, “Even after the Imperial prerogative of supreme command was exercised, is the Consulate here trying to intervene and interfere?”
Hanaya, for his part, drew a sword and threatened the diplomat.